LONDON (Reuters) - The number of Britons reporting they are employed on ‘zero-hours’ contracts which offer no guaranteed work or pay has risen by almost a fifth over the past year, official figures showed on Wednesday.
Zero-hours contracts are popular with employers in the hospitality, social care and further education sectors, but the opposition Labour Party had pledged to restrict their use before losing a national election in May.
The Office for National Statistics said it estimated 744,000 people, equivalent to 2.4 percent of Britain’s workforce, were employed on zero-hours contracts in the second quarter of 2014, compared with 624,000 a year earlier.
Some of the increase might be due to more people being aware that they were on zero-hours contracts, the ONS said.
Separate ONS research conducted in January, which looked at the number of zero-hours contracts, rather than the number of people employed on them, showed that the number of jobs offered on zero-hours terms had held broadly steady at 1.5 million.
Britain’s unemployment rate has fallen faster than elsewhere in Europe over the past two years, dropping to 5.6 percent from 7.8 percent, but some economists say this is partly due to more self-employment and other insecure work.
Supporters of zero-hours contracts say they offer flexibility to both employers and staff, while trade unions say they make it hard for workers to rent property, borrow money, or to be eligible for sick pay.
“Zero-hours contracts are a stark reminder of Britain’s two-tier workforce,” Trades Union Congress General Secretary Frances O’Grady said after the data was released.
The ONS said 40 percent of people on zero-hours contracts reported that they wanted to work more hours.
Women, full-time students and older people are more likely to work on zero-hours contracts, the ONS said.
Reporting by David Milliken; Editing by Toby Chopra